“Slip It In,” the third Black Flag studio album, is (select any/all that apply):
1) The first featuring bassist Kira Roessler.
2) One of the best Black Flag records.
3) An obvious ‘fuck you’ to a punk establishment growing more orthodox in ideology as well as in fashion and sound. The original American and British punk scenes were free spaces for ideas and innovation. With the advent of hardcore, punk reached a younger audience hungry to latch onto something countercultural. Younger audiences tend to be more impressionable and eager to be accepted than their older counterparts, so what amounted to a dress code quickly came to the fore. Bands in the suburbs, relatively detached from the immediacy of punk scenes in cities, grew more orthodox in their sounds, as well, aping already-established bands releasing records. In terms of ideological content, things began to become politically correct through the release of zines like Maximumrocknroll – so left-leaning that they began to seem right-leaning. Black Flag wanted to rankle kneejerk fans who adapted the more PC ideology for the sake of fitting in – remember that punk was originally a place for people who didn’t fit in. Black Flag wanted to reinforce this. Releasing “Slip It In” fit the bill.
4) An extension of the band’s road-dog persona and general disrespectful attitude towards women. In the early days, they kept a running tally of the number of women they’d slept with in the van; stories of tour hookups abound. Songs like “Loose Nut” on later records confirm this reading.
5) One of the worst Black Flag records.
6) The first of a misunderstood series of songs designed to make people reflect on choices they make. The album’s title track lambastes hypocrisy – the band was setting a hard example through their constant work, practice, and touring. Of course, not everyone lives this way, so subsequent songs which also addressed what they perceived as the public’s weakness and stupidity, especially concerning not being able to control primal urges – “Loose Nut,” “Annihilate This Week,” to a less carnal extent “Drinking And Driving” – were made a little more obvious so that listeners wouldn’t misinterpret them as easily and as often as “Slip It In” was.
7) The first of several studio albums which drag because the material isn’t strong enough to sustain repeated listens. After MCA’s injunction against the band lifted, Black Flag released records quickly to accommodate their backlog of songs and their seemingly endless touring. With that said, some songs didn’t fare well outside of the live setting, and the best songs were evenly distributed amongst the many releases to level the killer/filler ratio.
8) An okay Black Flag record.
9) The beginning of the end of a band ruined by Henry Rollins joining.
10) The sound of Greg Ginn becoming newly comfortable with his role as the band’s only guitar player. For years he had Dez behind him to fortify his sound. Ginn hit his musical stride after the release of “My War” and the ridiculous practice regiment maintained by the Ginn/Rollins/Stevenson/Kira lineup. The strength of the rhythm section allowed him to be more out there with his leads.
11) A mediocre Black Flag record.
12) A continuation of the band’s ongoing infatuation with metal. The longer, slower stuff on “My War” reflects the band’s infatuation with Black Sabbath; the production on “Slip It In” and “Loose Nut” is an attempt to aurally pass on this infatuation.
13) The first of five LP’s, two live albums and an instrumental EP released between 1984 and 1986.
Filtering by Tag: California
Side B of ‘My War.’
So: Dez shifts over to guitar, Henry Rollins is plucked from Washington DC’s State of Alert and installed as the singer, and Black Flag finally records ‘Damaged,’ their debut LP. And it’s amazing.
Then came the legalese which cast a shadow over the rest of the band’s recorded output and career: the Flag guys didn’t think floundering MCA subsidiary Unicorn Records was doing the job they had promised. Ginn and co. took things into their own hands, and were summarily served with an injunction preventing the band from releasing anything (1). When the injunction was lifted, it was two years later. In that time, the band had burned through:
Drummers Robo (who couldn’t get back into the US after playing overseas)
and Emil (ask Mugger about this one)
and DOA’s Chuck Biscuits
as well as bass player extraordinaire Chuck Dukowski,
and Dez Cadena set out on his own, leaving the band without a permanent rhythm section or a second guitar player.
There were a few times in Black Flag history when the band was in a lurch and had drummer Bill Stevenson of the Descendents fill in, as he already knew the songs. So, Bill was a natural choice to play on the new batch of material.
When “My War” came out, the fan reaction was extreme. The ‘A’ side consists of some great stuff: the amazing “Forever Time,” live staple “Can’t Decide,” and the Dukowski-penned song which bears the album’s name spring to mind here. These songs are in the same vein as a lot of Flag’s other songs. But the flip—‘Nothing Left Inside,’ ‘Three Nights’ and ‘Scream’ – was close to twenty minutes of trudgery. And it’s infuriating.
But not because the material has changed: I love that the band’s confrontational attitude manifested in their refusal to adhere to their audience’s expectations, both physically and aurally, in a time when the hardcore scene was becoming more orthodox. And not because it’s long – remember that by the time “My War” was released, the Wipers’ “Youth of America,” featuring a ten-minute title track, had already been in release for more than two years, and the Subhumans’ “From The Cradle To the Grave” had been released shortly before. Long punk songs were nothing new.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, Black Flag are a frustrating band. My War is one of these times. I understand why the band recorded the album when they did – they had new songs to record, and were gung-ho to release them following the injunction being lifted – but the how is tough in this case. A lot of stories told about the band –their history, or at least the shorthand for it — revolves around the Black Flag work ethic, both in the act itself and at Ginn’s SST imprint. So I find myself wishing that they had applied that ethic and had waited until they had a solvent lineup that practiced for a zillion hours a day until the songs were perfect. This was the case on the albums that followed. On “My War,” Ginn played bass himself under the pseudonym Dale Nixon (2).
The popularity of the widely-bootlegged 1982 demos, with the Greg/Chuck/Dez/Henry/Biscuits lineup playing, hints at the greatness of the five-piece lineup. So do some shows from 1982 which recently surfaced as ‘Live At The On Broadway 7/3-24/1982.’ Listening to these makes the studio album all the more frustrating – the bootleg/live stuff sounds better than the studio recordings.
Yeah, we can argue that the b-side, with its three songs in nineteen minutes, is designed to be a trudge. The thin production adds to the effect (whether or not this was the intention). I would counterargue that it’s also designed to kick ass. And while the songs are great, the timing and execution of the recording don’t always serve them. I know times were tight, and I know that, like Raw Power, a new mix might make me appreciate the first one more. I wish things had been done differently is all. Yeah, shoulda/coulda/woulda. But still.
Check out this live video of the five-piece slaying “Nothing Left Inside” in Germany, 1983.
(1) They did, of course: “Everything Went Black” was originally released without the band’s name on the cover. Of course, it was released with a bunch of Black Flag songs on it, so Ginn and Dukowski were hauled to jail.
Something I forgot to mention yesterday: ‘EWB’ is a fascinating rec because it allows for some direct compare/contrast between the band’s first three singers and their respective takes on things: play ‘Depression’ and or ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ in three different iterations and see where you stand regarding The Singer Argument.
(2) Dale Nixon was credited on the Fucking Champs’ album IV, on some Campaign For Real-Time records, and, perhaps not surprisingly, as the photographer who took one of the author pix in my novel.
The first of my posts about Black Flag for One Week One Band:
In 2006 Continuum Press accepted my pitch to write a book on the Minutemen’s “Double Nickels On the Dime” album. I was psyched, of course, but also a little scared: the pressure of doing justice to what was (and is) my favorite record hung over my head throughout the process – as did the…